Pesquera blames politics and a lack of leadership in Puerto Rico for the problems that have plagued the police department, which last year was the subject of a blistering U.S. Department of Justice report that described an underpaid, untrained, critically broken force. While cops were accused of violating civil rights and helping protect drug dealers, shootings took place in crowded shopping centers and on highways.
Pesquera said he found police cruisers with 300,000 miles on them, flat tires and dead batteries. He had to order 16,000 pairs of pants because cop uniforms were largely frayed. Bulletproof vests had outlived their life expectancy.
Internal-affairs complaints dating back 12 years sat dormant, and police lacked the computers to run background checks on suspects.
But local law enforcement authorities argue that about 75 percent of the islands murders are drug-related, and the drugs come in by air and sea which is federal jurisdiction.
After complaints last year from the governor and the islands representative in Washington, the feds began to take notice.
The Department of Justice teamed up with island prosecutors and police to create the Illegal Firearm and Violent Crime Reduction Initiative. In July, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano visited the island.
She looked me right in the eye and said, Were going to help you, Pesquera said. I dont think shes blowing smoke.
The new cutters from Miami were lent to Puerto Rico, and employees for various federal agencies were deployed on temporary stints. The Department of Homeland Security launched task forces for drugs and guns coming in by mail and cargo.
By October, DHS said coordinated operations resulted in the seizure of more than 16,000 pounds of drugs and the arrest of more than 100 people.
2011 was a bad year, no doubt about it, said Joseph Campbell, the special agent in charge of the San Juan FBI office. There are so many gangs here, we have to prioritize which are the most violent, which are most negatively impacting communi- ties.
More than 500 people have been charged in federal court with crimes ranging from carjacking to home-invasion robbery. Federal agents charged one man who robbed a Burger King restaurant of less than $100.
Suspects who use automatic weapons with obliterated serial numbers, have prior felony offenses, or rob a place of business are being charged in federal court. In some cases, prosecutors have applied the Hobbs Act, which makes it illegal to affect interstate commerce.
That means people who were wanted for multiple murders in Puerto Rican courts are doing serious federal time for firearms violations, and are being held without bail while they await trial. The idea is to skirt the Puerto Rican courts, which allow bail even in murder cases.
Experts say bail discourages witnesses from cooperating. Now, more victims are cooperating with authori- ties.
The results have worked beyond expectations: The five districts where the project was launched San Juan, Carolina, Bayamon, Caguas and Ponce averaged a 23 percent drop in homicides.
Some people could say that these are nickel-and-dime cases, said José Capo, the assistant U.S. attorney in San Juan who is overseeing the initiative. The charges we are filing for the most part have nothing to do with murders or drug trafficking. Were looking for the most readily provable gun crime.